Disney's most reliable brand, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), has seen better days. 2023 has been one of its worst years, and something’s gotta give, espcially after 'The Marvels’, which shows that a turning point has well and truly been reached.
The most recent Marvel film, The Marvels, has reportedly suffered the worst opening weekend at the cinema in the Marvel Cinematic Universe history.
The film, directed by Nia DaCosta, is the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel and a continuation of the television miniseries Ms. Marvel.
It opened to an estimated $47 million at the US box office to rank as the worst start in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also bombed overseas, debuting to $63.3 million for a global start of $110 million compared to nearly $190 million for Captain Marvel in 2019 - and against a hefty $200 million production budget.
Before now, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk held the record for the lowest domestic opening of any MCU title at $55.4 million (not adjusted for inflation). The next lowest MCU opening belonged to Marvel/Disney’s Ant-Man, which started with $57.2 million domestically in 2015.
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Research Entertainment, called it “an unprecedented Marvel box-office collapse.”
The 33rd film in the MCU, which stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau/Photon, and Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, has split critics. Despite some heralding the return of a fun romp for the ongoing series, reviews weren’t strong (62% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) - and neither was audience reaction. The Marvels is only the third MCU release to receive a “B” CinemaScore from moviegoers, following Eternals and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania.
And it earns it. It’s undeniably promising premise about a team-up of three female superheroes ended up as a poorly scripted and groan-worthy cosmic slog, devoid of decent humour, thrills or any meaningful stakes. Put simply: it’s anything but marvellous.
It’s a damn shame, as the project is an exceptional Marvel release in numerous ways. The Marvels is the first MCU release directed by a Black woman, as well as DaCosta being the youngest director of an MCU film (she turned 34 on 8 November). It was also the rare Marvel movie led by three women.
Sadly, it’s a new low for the MCU and adds fuel to the ever-growing superhero fatigue, which has seen fans grow weary of a glut of titles, TV series as mandatory watching to keep track of the knotty narratives, and an apparent lack of quality control compared to the tighter Phases One to Three.
Indeed, the post-Infinity Saga (2008’s Iron Man to 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home) has seen the once unstoppable superhero factory lose audiences because of the middling quality of the output. Both in terms of quality and box office numbers, only Spider-Man: No Way Home and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 have stood out in an otherwise patience-testing slate of films. Not helping is Phase Four’s TV shows, which have dropped in quality since the highs of WandaVision (2021) and recently given us some of its very worst, like She Hulk: Attorney At Law and Secret Invasion.
With movie screens and streaming platforms increasingly crowded with superhero films and series, some analysts have detected a new, heavier fatigue setting in for audiences. Disney chief executive Bob Iger himself has spoken about possible oversaturation for Marvel and has threatened to cut down on the number of films.
About damn time, as something is shifting for superheroes. Like this year’s dire Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, The Marvels should be a wake-up call for Disney and Marvel to change things up. And fast. Otherwise, the MCU won’t be – to quote Captain Marvel – going “higher, further, faster”. It will instead stall to the point of indifference.